Designers Hell Bent on Traditonal Methods

Last year the student AIGA group from Specs Howard School of Media Arts, and I took a field trip to the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit. We had the privilege of meeting Mark Arminski.  Arminski  a local Detroit artist who bridged the gap between the psychedelic 60’s and grudge of the 90’s.

Arminski is an artist who works traditionally, painting or screening concert posters and whatever commissions he receives.  He has done advertising work for large corporations, including liquor and cigarettes yet the concert poster is what he is most known for.

Mark was very inspiring and warm, he welcomed the group in and said come back any time. The students were thrilled to here him talk about his design concept of painting and hand lettering, which he felt gave him the most freedom to shape the communication.

In an interview Arminski talks about the ability for many people to create art because of the internet, and the ability to reach a far greater audience. As well as the open ability to sell art, that without the internet artists would be creating with a limited market. [1]

While Arminski recognizes some of the merits of working with the computer, his work is done by hand. He exudes creation in whatever form grabs his attention. The first image is a poster, and the second a snippet of an oil painting he was working on the day we visited.

Another Motown designer who later transplanted to teach at Cal Arts is Ed Fella.  Fella is well-known for his explosion of self-expression in the 1980s when much of the design world was sticking with the clean lines and clear communication of International or Swiss style.

Fella brought authorship back into design as each of his pieces were hand created by hand and very self expressive.  Before Fella attended Cranbrook for his Masters, he worked in the advertising world even while he was working in advertising he would often draw little political pieces for himself to hand around the office.

In an Interview for Designer People, Fella talks about doing all his work by hand, with color pencils, ball point pens and crayons. He also works with a waxer and knife, he cuts and pastes.  His lettering is by hand, as he says “of course he letters everything by hand.”  He was considered to have brought the craft back to design in a time of the introduction of the computer.  Fella also feels that working by hand offers him the most flexibility. [2]

Both Fella and Arminski cited flexibility as a major reason for creating using traditional methods. Arminski has adopted the computer for certain aspects such as selling and networking.  Both designers are illustrative more over production designers and so this seems fitting that they would create using traditional methods. I feel that designers have to have some ability to drawing to be fully successfully. Whether it be the ability to do a napkin sketch, a thumbnail or a full illustration. There are certain skills developed by putting pencil to paper.

Also artist get lost in the process. For some designers this may mean working a photo composition in Photoshop, while for others it means getting lost in the paint or pencil marks being made.

In the samples I found the end results were very successful and the outcome not hindered by the process of traditional methods.

There seems to be an interesting dichotomy regarding computer art and traditional art. Some computer artist feel they do not need to use traditional methods to create – ever. Yet once they begin to feel confident in their skills, the idea of sketching becomes easier to reach for.  And reversely once a traditional artist puts something into the computer to manipulate the end result they also fall in love with new possibilities.

Young designers have grown up with computers and may feel a disconnect between art and design.  To encourage them to doodle and use that as part of a design solution, or graffiti opens new doors.  For the seasoned designer perhaps acclimated to the speed of the computer process, yet feeling less fulfilled, a return to traditional methods could infuse the designer with renew passion for the field.

Creatives need to create. Experiment. Get their hands dirty. Bringing art and computer together often offers a warm, organic solution to a design challenge. Sitting in front of a computer ten hours a day or allowing the computer to be the designer stifles humans.  We have to remind ourselves and those we mentor that the computer is just another tool in the designers belt.



[2], Interview for Designer People


Life in and Out of Structure

As a kid growing up my boundaries were outlined by four streets, Newburg, Cherry Hill, Wayne and Palmer. Many streets dead ended at the woods, Wayne road held Norman’s market, were one dollar meant a weeks candy stash. As a teen a walk around the block meant a four hike, each intersection located a mile apart on the country road.  Directions were easy because each road was one mile in all directions.

Never gave this much thought until stumbling upon Holly Holzschlag, Thinking Outside The Grid article.  Holzschlag recounts flying over cities and looking down on the city footprints. She tells us that Tucson was a planned city built on an orderly grid system. Whereas London, the city she compares Tucson with, is built in a spontaneous fashion. [1] It is also a much older city, growing organically through the centuries.

Looking at these maps one can see how the structure of the orderly gird system is easy to navigate, even dependable. However, the trip can become a little monotonous.  Driving around Detroit, built with a central district and circling out into the grid can be exciting as roads wrap and wind around the cities top attractions and business district.   However it is also easy to get lost.

Successful print and web designs are based on a grid system.  The grid is an invisible foundation that helps the designer align the elements on the page/spread.  Common grid systems are the Fibonacci Systems, the rule of thirds and a modular system. The modular is often thought to be the most flexible.

Ellen Lupton, Thinking With Type, says this about the golden mean, “This means that the smaller of two elements (such as the shorter side of a rectangle) relates to the larger element in the same way that the larger element relates to the two parts combined. In other words, side a is to side b as side b is to the sum of both sides.” [2]

She goes onto discuss the modular grid system developed by the Swiss designers in the 1950-60’s, Gerstner, Ruder and Müller-Brockman. [2] The modular grid offers a wide range of options while not forcing the grid.  In her book, Graphic Design, The New Basics, Lupton talks about the 9 square grid and its ability to build irregular and asymmetrical designs.  [3]

This modular grid which was created by Karl Gerstner, takes the grid to extremes. [2]

Order can suck the life out of a party as well as a good design. Yet just like art, before you can abstract the form you need to understand the form.  This is the same for grids.  In the world of design deconstructing the grid became the thing to do in the 1980’s.  Designers like David Carson were responding to the audiences growing sophistication.  Timothy Samara, in Making and Breaking the Grid, talks about the media bombardment as a catalyst for this change, “In an effort to create a meaningful impression that competes with, and distinguishes itself within, this visual environment, designers have pursued various new ways of organizing visual experience.” [4]

In breaking the grid the surface of the plane is challenged. Objects may recede or come forward in a seemingly haphazard manner. Or perhaps the grid is place on a series of angles. April Greiman’s poster for  AIGA,  entitled Objects in Space, is among a series of posters that challenge hierarchy, explore optical space and appear not to have a recognizable structure.

To break or not to break, it is not a question just a matter of when to do which. You decide. . .

Buro Reng Clean, grid design.

Borrowed from Tyson, Typography Love (SCAD student)

[1] Holzschlag, Holly. Thinking Outside The Grid. A List Apart
[2] Lupton, Ellen. Grid. Thinking With Type.
[3] Ellen Lupton, and Jennifer Cole Phillips, Graphic Design, The New Basics, (New York: Princeton Architectural , 2008), 176. Print.
[4] Samara, Timothy, Making and Breaking the Grid, A Graphic Design Layout Workshop, (Beverly: Rockport, 2002), 118-9, 145. Print.

Digital Books and Typography #2

Craig Mod, in his lecture Designing for the Future Book talks of his love of the own-able tactile qualities of the book. He begins is talk of an experience while traveling, of both he and his companion, both opening back packs and pulling out the same book in a romantic and completely random coincidence.  Pulling out Kindles he contends would not have the same romanticism.

He feels that books are bounded and digital books boundless. That the bounded tangible book feels familiar to us.  Largely his talk is about the in between time in technology where books begin to look like books on digital readers.  He also shows us the DynaBook sketched by Alan Kay in 1968 which looks very similar to hand held readers today. The one in the image is a cardboard prototype.

For more on Craig Mod

One of the concerns of the digital book is the lose of, or marginalized, the cover. Another is the typography.

Joe Clark, in his post for A List Apart, declares “The internet did not replace television, which did not replace cinema, which did not replace books. E-books aren’t going to replace books either. E-books are books, merely with a different form.” This I find encouraging because while we must embrace the future – I still want to hold my book, have it fall on my face as I drift into sleep, aline my book shelves. Yet we can only carry so many books with us, and so with technology I will move forward. Eventually.

Joe Clark offers that many of the fine details of typesetting will be handled with HTML5 and CSS.

Another article found on Creative Pro, is very informative regarding type on these devices. The short story is that type on a reader is formed by the surrounding pixels. One bit of advice given was to use a web safe font.

Another informative article by Stephan Coles for the Font Feed, talks about what the iPad is missing – typography (and a camera).  He mentions the limited option of fonts and the inability for ragged right alignment, hyphens and the ability for tables to load correctly.

It seems until the coding and software catches up we have limited options. In the mean time Zen Garden has launched ePub Zen Garden for those trying their hand at digital publication design. The site opens with this statement, “We want to dispel the myth that digital books can’t also be crafted works of visual design.”

Of course designers can use the Adobe Creative Suite InDesign to create ePubs and the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite.

Many print designers are hurrying to keep up, as they should, this is no time to slack. To stay relevant in the field designers have to become adept at designing for a variety of platforms. Design for web or increasingly ePub, is being done through a team of both coders and designers. Technology brings the ability to do these tasks closer to home. Many coders are trained designers and many designers are learning code. Typography for the future will be a mash up of techniques, code and software. Good design with a clear understanding of intended output that will reinforce typography as a means of successfully communicating in the visual field.


White Space in Typography

Much of the feedback received pertained to the use of negative space to surround the word ONE and the ability to flip the black and white for a variety of uses.  Most felt that the negative space made the logo stand out as well as the use of a simple typeface and color scheme which made the typography emotionally appropriate.

This example shows a clever use of negative space in a logo for a guitar store.  Visually the “T” first stood out. Looking closer I realized it was actually two guitar necks and a shape that formed the “T.” Certainly a guitar player, the target audience, would have discerned the guitar shape immediately.

Mark Boulton in A List Apart, discusses the use of micro and macro white space. He references Erik Spiekermann’s redesign of The Economist, allowing for better readability through the use of whitespace. Boulton states this, “adding more whitespace to the individual characters. He then set the type slightly smaller and with more leading. All these changes added micro white space to the design. The overall result was subtle…”

Macro whitespace would be space between major elements and micro whitespace – the space between characters or words.

Boulton suggests that whitespace which leads the reader from element to element is considered active whitespace. Passive whitespace then is the space that allows for compositional harmony.

In Typographic Design: Form and Communication, Amos Chang regarding space to define form states, “. . . it is the existence of intangible elements, the negative, in architectonic forms which makes them come alive, become human, naturally harmonize with each one another, and enable us to experience them with human sensibility.” (Carter, Day, and Meggs 51)  The way words and letter forms are put together creates a syntax of visual syntax.

Design Reviver, shows an interesting example of negative space drawing attention to the focal point is shown below in which you have to look closely.Is it a cat or a dog, or both?

This experimental typographic piece from James Write Lo-Fi Designs, uses the positive and negative to communicate a message of contradiction, while at the same time the visual communication is equally contradiction in that it is black and white, the type is both negative and positive, while the typography takes up every inch of the page. Even the counters are blocked as a solid part of the letter further exaggerating the effect.

Cited References:
Carter, Rob, Ben Day, and Philip Meggs. Typographic Design: Form and Communication. Fifth. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. 51. Print.

Ethically Driven Typography #1

.ONE ONE t-shirt sample

ONE International Organization

Rally sign, welcome page for website and t-shirt for ONE International organization.  A diverse grassroots organization that began when several groups found a common goal, merged together to eradicate poverty and aids around the world.  [1] Bono is perhaps the most well-known spokesperson for ONE, he is also a founder.

ONE first caught my attention through another form of communication – design, with its (red) campaign. Selling t-shirts, bracelets, jewelry as well as special edition Converse shoes.

ONE concerns itself with advocacy and works closely with policy leaders around the world, predominantly Africa. With 3,000,000 members around the world major accomplishments have been realized.

A partial list of accomplishments:
•Additional 450 million for debt relief for Haiti following a devastating earthquake
•provide life saving medicines to roughly 4 million Africans
•create 300,000 jobs and promote exportation out of Africa [3]

Issues ONE is working on:
•AIDS/HIV and diseases
•debt cancellation
•water and sanitation
•development assistance
•trade [4]

Reflection of the typography used in the organization, particularly the logo.  

The logo itself often reversed in a black circle is very strong. ONE is set in a bold, simple typeface. It appears to be condensed with a very narrow counter. The negative space doesn’t intrude deeply into the letterform which helps the logo standout against the black.
When done in red with the parenthesis surrounding the word (one) the typography becomes a message of inclusion – we are all one nestled into the brackets.

The website is very clean often one in black, white and shades of gray. The current page is using yellow to add emphasis to welcome, about and join.  The hierarchy is established with the work being done the largest words on the page yet the logo has the prominent position in the upper left corner.  In this page Desmond Tutu’s quote calls attention from the all capital, gray scale copy with generous white space surrounding.

A few years ago the ONE campaign did a search for t-shirt designs, I did attempt a design and submitted it however the one shown was chosen. The logo is in reverse however the white space surround the word ONE in black stands out among all the other fonts used in the design. The wording is clipped to fit inside the shape of Africa.

The simplicity, bold lettering and generous negative space all work to making the logo stand out. In essence the logo is visible on what ever it is placed or where ever. It is modern in simplicity and attractive to a universal audience with is important as the organization is worldwide.  The modern and uncluttered typography and design surrounding the campaign attracts attention, or if Bono attracts the attention the design retains it.

Was pleasantly surprised to find this reference to the ONE campaign in the Design Elements, “The callout of the word “One,” by setting it in solid black, reinforces the brand image and singularity.” (Samara 147)  One group, one common purpose, one word. Very effective.


Samara, Timothy. Design Elements, A Graphic Style Manual. Beverly, MA: Rockport
Publishers, 2007. 147. Print.